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Body Composition Assessment

Don't be a slave to the scale! Go beyond the guesswork with science, and body composition measuring tools

A body composition assessment employs tools that measure a variety of physical parameters: skin fold calipers to measure the thickness of the skin and underlying adipose (fat) tissue at a range of sites around the body; a measuring tape for girth measurements; a common bathroom scale for determining body weight; and a camera positioned in front of a background reference grid for taking actual snapshots from the front and side. Accrued together, the data obtained using these tools creates a snapshot in time of your current body composition.

What's included in a body composition assessment


The best tool for tracking changes in body fat over time

Skinfold measurements are easy to take with a tool called a skinfold caliper. The skinfold caliper used in this reference video is a professional level tool used by universities and testing labs, but you can buy your own inexpensive durable plastic skinfold caliper here. I’ve used this model for years on hundreds of clients. What’s important in any testing tool: the results are clear and reproducible. The video referenced here represents clear easy-to-follow-instructions on gathering skinfold data. Measurements sites, anatomically referenced, are identified as is the precise technique for using the tool.

Simple, universally available, a small flexible measuring tape can tell you a lot

Girths measurements are circumference measures, using a tape, taken at standard anatomical sites around the body. The idea behind the selection of the body sites where the measurements are taken is, together they show a map of your current average of level subcutaneous or, below-the-skin, fat. Fat is hi-octane, readily-available fuel and, as such, fat levels in someone embarking on any athletic endeavour can be reduced over time. Collecting regular skinfold and girth measurements, combined with scale data, creates a vastly clearer picture of one’s body composition changes over time in response to regular training than referring to a weigh scale alone. Over time in active people, skinfold measurements all over the body will become gradually and relatively smaller. Lean tissue, metabolically active tissue weights more than fat and water and consumes substrates like fat for fuel. More muscle means more calories burned. If one’s diet is controlled, fat is gradually lost, consumed as fuel by the fitter, stronger muscles you’ll gain from training. 

Everyone carries a hi-res camera, use it to create before and after pics

Smartphones all have built-in hi-res cameras that are useful for completing our picture, literally, of body composition. Stand 1-2 feet from a light, single-colour wall facing the camera. This will become your mark for any body composition photos taken from now on in this series. With your smartphone on a tripod 4-5 feet from your mark (here I’m thinking of a small portable tripod for use with a smartphone, sitting on a table), take a photo while facing the camera from your mark; and another facing left or right 90 degrees. The point here is to create a set-up that you can reproduce easily once or twice per month: same camera, same distance between you and the wall and you and the camera; same height of camera for each shoot, etc. Do this for 6 months while engaging in your athletic endeavours and see the changes in your body composition over that time.

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